This is not the most tightly drawn narrative among the volumes of the monumental Oxford History that I've read. Howe sometimes seems to jump from topic to topic, offering a dab of economic history here, a literary tidbit there, mixed with a smidgen of expansionist early American imperialism as a side dish. I suspect that 30 years from now this volume may seem anachronistic, a reading of this slice of early United States history extremely resonant of the concerns of the first decade of 21st century during another communications revolution, but perhaps missing other not currently obvious unifying themes. But that's just an intuition; I nonetheless was gripped by the variety interesting information Howe offers and will be sharing some some over several posts.
Here's an introductory sample of the sort of observation that makes this such an insightful commentary on the present:
That is, according to Howe, our state, so recently seized from Mexico in an aggressive war of choice, was already in 1848 playing the role it still often fulfills -- exploring the cutting edge of technological and human invention. Then as now, the rest of the world looked on in mixed envy, delight and horror -- and then often emulated us. I wish he'd given a citation for the assertion that California is still the "most ethnically cosmopolitan society in existence" -- not that I can name a rival off the top of my head.
It's never boring being a Californian.